Kids software that delights and educates
For the ideal children's gift that doesn't end up in the back of the closet, consider educational computer software. Quality programs with a strong learning component allow kids to learn and improve their skills while having a great time. The best software not only engages again and again but can grow with the user's skills.Skip to next paragraph
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So skip the point-and-shoots and arcade-style games and take a look at the following notable offerings (most retail between $20 and $30) from the past year:
Jumpstart Toddlers (Ages 18 months to 3 years). It's debatable whether children under the age of 2 or 3 have much business at the computer at all, but for those inclined to test the waters, Jumpstart's popular series has a new version of their toddler program. Children can join DeeDee the Duck on her trip upriver, exploring numbers, colors, shapes, and letters along the way. There is a lot of music, which is quite engaging, and the colors and graphics are vibrant. The technology is set to allow for activity changes just by moving the cursor over an area, making it especially easy for tiny hands unfamiliar with clicking a mouse.
Blue's 123 Time Activities (Ages 3 to 6). This is a fun, very simple, math-oriented program that complements last year's best-selling Blue's ABC Time Activities. In this one, Blue goes to the Backyard Fair, where she and her friends explore number, shape, and pattern recognition, prediction and estimation, even counting and spending money, all in the guise of games.
There's also Blue's Treasure Hunt Adventure, in which preschoolers help Steve search for a series of treasure hunt scrolls leading to keys to the Land of Great Discovery.
Freddi Fish 4: The Case of the Hogfish Rustlers of Briny Gulch (Ages 3 to 8). Freddi Fish fans will be thrilled to note that the popular series has added another adventure. As players navigate through a colorful and lively underwater world, they discover clues and collect tools to help release Calico Catfish's kidnapped prize-winning hogfish. It's standard Freddi Fish fare that experienced young players will enjoy right away.
Newcomers, however, would be better off with the original, as the game launches straight into play mode with little guidance as to how to proceed.
It's low-key, even tediously slow in spots, but quite challenging for the age range. Three years old is way too young to do much besides casual exploration, while even some 10-year-olds will have trouble solving the mystery. However, this makes it an especially effective game for sibling sharing.
Reader Rabbit Thinking Adventures (Ages 4 to 6). The Learning Company has provided the most-used software to schools for more than 15 years. The most recent release in the Reader Rabbit series is its first-ever "thinking" title, and it's a clear winner. A birthday party theme with more than 50 interactive games and printable activities draw children into play areas that reinforce a variety of logic, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. The graphics are flat and relatively cheesy, but the games themselves, from compare and contrast to memory and planning-ahead strategies, are quite enjoyable and can be programmed for three different ability levels. A second CD-ROM provides customized workbooks and activity sheets. One of the appealing aspects for young kids is the name recognition: Reader Rabbit can address players by name.
Mathblasters and Reading Blasters (K to fifth grade). This extremely popular and valuable series has re-designed its characters and come up with a whole new look to engage kids in learning math and reading. Four new grade-appropriate titles feature intergalactic travelers G.C. and Max Blaster in adventures involving a variety of reward games that help develop basic math and reading skills. A printable chart lets kids track their progress. Treasure rooms offer kids printable puzzles and open-ended activities. The games range from the basic rudiments to some requiring critical-thinking skills on a number of levels, and by and large, they are quite entertaining for even the more reluctant learners.